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The oil and gas industry in the United States has changed dramatically over the last decade. There is immense pressure on the industry to meet an ever-growing demand for domestically produced fossil fuels and an equal emphasis on harvesting that oil and gas while making every possible effort to protect the environment.
In response to these challenges and opportunities, Muskingum University in 2014 created a new degree program, the bachelor of science in petroleum geology, adding to its already broad commitment to environmental education with majors including geology, environmental science, conservation science and earth science.
“Graduates of programs like our petroleum geology degree are needed to fill jobs within the growing oil and gas industry or in governmental agencies,” said Dr. Stephen R. Van Horn, Associate Professor of Geology and Chair of the Geology Department at Muskingum. He also pointed out that the degree can prepare students to pursue a graduate degree.
The petroleum geology major was a natural next step for Muskingum because it built upon the strengths of the university’s current geology department. Courses in Introduction to Well Logging, Sedimentary Petrology, Petroleum Geology and Subsurface Geology were added to the existing curriculum to create a complete academic offering.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that employment for geoscientists is projected to grow 16 percent from now until 2022, faster than the national average for all occupations.
“The need for energy, environmental protection and responsible land and resource management is projected to spur demand for geoscientists in the future,” according to the Bureau’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.
As it turns out, both Muskingum and the Bureau were right in their assessments. Since the program was created, Dr. Van Horn pointed out, roughly 30 students have become involved with the geology department, and about half of those are pursuing the petroleum geology program either as their sole major or part of a double major. “That’s a very strong success for a comparatively new program,” he said.
“The impact of adding the petroleum geology program has been significant,” Dr. Van Horn explained. “We’re attracting excellent students who, in some cases, came to Muskingum specifically because we’re offering this major.”
The work required of students entering the program at Muskingum is as rigorous and challenging as the work those courses prepare them for. But, as Dr. Van Horn explained, class work can’t on its own prepare these students. Getting away from campus to meet with and learn from working geologists from across the country is invaluable, as is getting exposure to real world oil and gas operations.
To that end, a group of students and their faculty recently attended the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Eastern Section meeting in Lexington, Kentucky and later gained some valuable field experience not too far from campus.
Attending the AAPG conference were Chase Lash, a junior petroleum geology major from Canal Fulton; Dustin Bennett, a junior petroleum geology and political science major from Byesville; Landis Bates, a junior petroleum geology and environmental science major from Mantua; Ryan Lewton, a junior petroleum geology major from Martins Ferry; Michael Kennedy, a junior geology and petroleum geology major from Wooster; Ian McGougan, a sophomore petroleum geology major from Pickerington; Kayla Maze, a junior petroleum geology major from Belpre; and Jeremy Gerdau, a sophomore petroleum geology major from New Concord. The students were accompanied by Dr. Van Horn and Associate Professor of Geology Dr. Eric Law.
In addition to the group’s attendance, Bates, McGougan, Gerdau and Dr. Law made a poster presentation titled The Formation of Diagenetic Trap in the Squirrel Sandstone.
Both the conference attendance and the presentation were a big stage for the Muskingum students. Founded in 1917, the AAPG is considered one of the cornerstone organizations in the field of geology, with offices in London, Dubai, Singapore, Bogotá, Lagos and Washington, D.C. It has more than 40,000 members worldwide, including 8,000 students.
Back in Ohio, a group from Muskingum joined some of their peers from Kent State University to go on a field tour of oil and gas producing sites in southeastern Ohio. The tour was conducted by 1980 Muskingum alumnus David R. Hill, who is President of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the second generation of his family to run David R. Hill, Incorporated, an oil and gas exploration company based in Byesville.
The tour included PDC Energy’s Utica Shale production pad near Senecaville, a visit to a Clinton Sandstone well and concluded at a Class 2 injection well.
Taking in that experience, from the group that traveled to the conference in Kentucky, were Bennett, Bates, Lash and Kennedy. Joining them were fellow Muskingum students Kole Smith, a sophomore petroleum geology from Powhatan Point; Nathan Paddock, a first-year student from Middletown; and Kyle Gannon, a sophomore petroleum geology major from Pataskala. They were accompanied by Dr. Van Horn.
“The value of these experiences outside the classroom simply cannot be overstated,” Dr. Van Horn said. “Class work is critical, to be sure, but these ‘real world’ encounters are not only valuable educationally, but it makes our students even more excited about their chosen profession. And we believe the well-trained, enthusiastic professionals that complete our program and graduate from Muskingum will go on to make some important contributions in this very important industry.”